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28/09/2016

Austrian chancellor faces uncertain future

Elections

Austrian chancellor faces uncertain future

Werner Faymann

[European Council]

The political future of Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann could be at risk as his party grows increasingly concerned about the rise of right-wing populism in the country. EurActiv Germany reports.

As Faymann celebrates his 56th birthday tomorrow (4 May), he will have to address the fact that he may soon be forced to give up his office and the leadership of the Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ). For almost eight years, Faymann has counted on the support of Vienna’s mayor and party powerhouse, Michael Häupl. But the party has seen a dropoff in popularity and the low point came last week when its presidential candidate, Rudolf Hundstorfer, failed to make the runoff.

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Now it seems possible that Faymann will be replaced after an upcoming special party conference. In the meantime, the debate over his leadership qualities and his assertiveness has intensified, especially from the left.

The political direction of the party has come to the fore, as the SPÖ has been losing votes to the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) for over a decade, as workers switch from chanting ‘Karl Marx’ to ‘Heinz-Christian Strache’.

Many, including regional governor Hans Niessl and trade union leader Erich Foglar, believe that working with the FPÖ in future instead of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) is the best way to stay in power.

On the other hand, other factions of the party, including the young socialists, want the party to return to its socialists roots. The dispute is escalating to such an extent that the party could face a schism.

Faymann still has his supporters, as elements of the party would prefer to avoid the upheaval that his departure would cause.

The range of potential successors is quite wide, from the head of broadcaster RTL to former chancellery secretary Gerhard Zeiler, as well as new Minister of Defence Hans Peter Doskozil.

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The impact of the SPÖ’s coalition partner, the ÖVP can also not be underestimated. EurActiv.de learned that the party is working on a “relaunch” of sorts and the name of its not-yet 30 years old Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz, remains on the tip of many a political observer’s tongue, following strong showings in the country’s tabloids.

Whether this will be enough to draw voters back and whether Faymann can hold on to his position remains to be seen.